Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a meeting held in the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on April 20 about the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Japan is strengthening measures to provide information and prepare for evacuations if hostilities erupt on the Korean Peninsula, but Seoul says Tokyo’s moves could exacerbate the already tense situation.

With Washington ratcheting up the pressure on Pyongyang, many Japanese are concerned that their country could become a target of North Korean ballistic missiles.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on April 20 reported a sharp rise in hits on the Cabinet Secretariat’s Civil Protection Portal Site, which offers information on how to evacuate from a missile strike.

“We want to spread the information to all of the people in Japan,” Suga said at a news conference.

According to the Cabinet Secretariat, the number of accesses to the website on April 15 alone was 458,373, exceeding the total number of 450,858 for all of March.

Traffic has also increased on the Foreign Ministry’s Tabi Regi website, which sends e-mail to Japanese overseas about the security situation in their areas.

When the ministry on April 11 urged Japanese in South Korea to keep up with developments, the number of people who registered on the site for information about South Korea doubled.

According to the ministry, about 57,000 Japanese citizens, including tourists, are in South Korea.

At a Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on April 19, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was asked about ways to evacuate Japanese from South Korea if the country is attacked by North Korea.

“Cooperation and policy coordination with the United States are important,” Kishida said.

According to Japanese government officials, Tokyo is considering bringing the Japanese citizens home on aircraft and vessels not only from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces but also from the U.S. military.

South Korean government officials are frowning on such statements from the Japanese government.

“Those remarks, which were based on assumptive situations, could cause misunderstandings and have a negative influence on peace and security of the Korean Peninsula,” a spokesman of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said at a news conference in Seoul on April 18. “It is necessary to refrain from making such remarks.”

However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced additional plans in the event of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.

On April 20, a meeting was held in the prime minister’s office on issues related to the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and the 1980s. The Japanese government believes a number of the abductees are still alive in North Korea.

“We are planning to take measures to rescue the abducted citizens if various things take place on the Korean Peninsula,” Abe said at the meeting. “As for those measures, we are asking the United States for cooperation.”

Some Japanese executives have visited their companies’ offices or factories in South Korea to prepare for a contingency. Some companies are even calling on their employees’ family members to return to Japan from South Korea.

On April 20, however, there were no signs of an imminent emergency on the peninsula. In addition, the United States has not called on its citizens to leave South Korea.

Still, a Japanese government official said, “We want to gradually decrease the number of Japanese nationals in South Korea by increasing those who return to Japan voluntarily.”

Tokyo also wants to heighten the deterrence factor on North Korea by staying in line with the U.S. stance of heightening pressure on the reclusive country.

(This article was written by Nozomi Matsui in Tokyo and Yoshihiro Makino in Seoul.)